10 Math & Science Topic Choice Mentors + 10 Book Giveaways

Science and Math Mentor Texts | Two Writing Teachers

Please leave a comment on this post for a chance to win a copy of one of these picture books. (Be sure to read the giveaway information at the bottom of the post for instructions about how to enter.)

A few months ago I wrote a post called 10 Topic Choice Mentors, which included ten books I’d come across that might help students find more things they wanted to write about.  A few people asked me to create a similar post with nonfiction books.  I pushed myself to get out of comfort zone, which is anything historical, to find ten math and science picture books that might inspire students to write.

All too often, people who are adept at language arts feel uncomfortable with math and science.  And then there are the people who love math and science, but don’t like English and history.  Sound like any of your students?  Well, perhaps you can turn one or more of your non-writers into a writer by giving them a little inspiration for something they can write about in their writer’s notebook as part of their nightly writing.

There’s never enough time in the school day when you’re a classroom teacher.  Many teachers feel pressed to find ample time to read aloud once during the school day (forget about two or three times).  Therefore, it’s necessary to find books that can do double- or triple-duty.  It helps to find books you can read aloud during read aloud time you can revisit during reading and writing minilessons or during content areas periods. Naturally, all of the books mentioned in this post can be used in math or science.  (Please note: Unlike many of my mentor text posts, this post will not provide you with specific ways to use each book.  Please know each can be used to teach young writers a variety of craft moves. I trust you will mine each book for the craft moves you can teach your students.)

9781467721103fcA Rock Can Be by Laura Purdie Salas and Violeta Dabija (Millbrook Press, 2015)

Publisher’s Summary: Rocks may seem like boring, static objects—until you discover that a rock can spark a fire, glow in the dark, and provide shelters of all shapes and sizes. Laura Purdie Salas’s lyrical rhyming text and Violeta Dabija’s glowing illustrations show how rocks decorate and strengthen the world around them.

What’s Next for Writers:

  • Craft your own A ______ Can Be… text. (NOTE: Salas has also written A Leaf Can Be… and Water Can Be…)
  • Use the “More About Rocks” back matter to help you think about a unique way you use rocks in your everyday life.  Write about it.
  • Write a poem using one of the pages as inspiration (e.g., book propper, lake skimmer, land connector, sparkling ring).

About Parrots JktPLCAbout Parrots: A Guide for Children by Cathryn Sill and John Sill (Peachtree, 2014)

Publisher’s Summary: In this appealing addition to the acclaimed About… series, educator and author Cathryn Sill uses simple, easy-to-understand language to teach children what parrots are, how they look, how they move, what they eat, and where they live. Illustrator John Sill introduces readers to a variety of parrots, from the colorful Blue Lorikeets of the Polynesian Islands to the Rosy-faced Lovebirds of southwestern Africa. An afterword provides details on the parrots featured and inspires readers to learn more.

What’s Next for Writers:

  • Create an all-about text for an animal you know well.
  • Research an animal and then craft an informational text about how the animal looks, moves, what they eat, and where they live.
  • Use the illustration notes in the afterword to learn more about parrots. Craft a story about parrots using some of the information you learned from About Parrots.

9780399252334_As_An_Oak_Tree_GrowsAs An Oak Tree Grows by G. Brian Karas (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2014)

Publisher’s Summary: This inventive picture book relays the events of two hundred years from the unique perspective of a magnificent oak tree, showing how much the world can transform from a single vantage point. From 1775 to the present day, this fascinating framing device lets readers watch as human and animal populations shift and the landscape transitions from country to city. Methods of transportation, communication and energy use progress rapidly while other things hardly seem to change at all.
This engaging, eye-opening window into history is perfect for budding historians and nature enthusiasts alike, and the time-lapse quality of the detail-packed illustrations will draw readers in as they pore over each spread to spot the changes that come with each new era. A fact-filled poster is included to add to the fun.

What’s Next for Writers:

  • Find something in your neighborhood that’s been around longer than you.  Write its story.
  • Imagine what life was like for children living in your neighborhood 20, 50, 100, or 150 years ago. Think specifically about how the place looked physically different and write about life during those times.
  • Write about the life cycle of an oak tree from the tree’s perspective.

Beneath the SunBeneath the Sun by Melissa Stewart and Constance R. Bergum (Peachtree, 2014)

Publisher’s Summary: When the sun is shining brightly, people put on sunscreen or scurry inside to cool off. But how do wild animals react to the sizzling heat? Journey from your neighborhood to a field where an earthworm loops its long body into a ball underground, to a desert where a jackrabbit loses heat through its oversized ears, to a wetland where a siren salamander burrows into the mud to stay cool, and to a seashore where a sea star hides in the shade of a seaweed mat. In simple yet informative language, Beneath the Sun shows young readers how the animals who live there survive the hottest time of the year.

What’s Next for Writers:

  • Write about the most challenging time of year for you to be outside. Why is being alive during a particular season or month hard for you?
  • Research an animal’s habitat and write about how it lives.
  • Take something new that was learned from Beneath the Sun and write an entry about the way the animal lives in its habitat.

9780763667597Bilby: Secrets of an Australian Marsupial by Edel Wignell and Mark Jackson (Candlewick Press, 2015)

Publisher’s Summary: In the hostile Australian desert, a mother bilby gives birth to a baby. Nestled in a burrow deep underground, she cares for her little one. Soon he must grow up and learn to survive in a harsh environment. Nature-loving readers can follow the story of this elusive marsupial, learning its secrets even as it burrows out of sight.

What’s Next for Writers:

  • Think about a unique animal you know a lot about and share its secrets in writing.
  • Craft a hybrid text, like Bilby, that includes a story and facts.
  • Write about another baby animal’s first weeks on Earth.

BuriedSunlight_coverBuried Sunlight: How Fossil Fuels Have Changed the Earth by Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm (The Blue Sky Press, 2014)

Publisher’s Summary: What are fossil fuels, and how did they come to exist? This engaging, stunning book explains how coal, oil, and gas are really “buried sunlight,” trapped beneath the surface of our planet for millions and millions of years.
Now, in a very short time, we are digging them up and burning them, changing the carbon balance of our planet’s air and water. What does this mean, and what should we do about it?
Using simple language and breathtaking paintings, Bang and Chisholm present a clear, concise explanation of the fossil-fuel energy cycle that began with the sun and now runs most of our transportation and energy use in our world.

What’s Next for Writers:

  • Use the back matter to learn more about fossil fuels. Craft a persuasive piece of writing (i.e., letter, essay, op-ed) that will convince people to use energy more efficiently.
  • Create a question and answer text where you pose important questions directly to a reader and answer them.
  • Write about the way planet Earth will look and feel in the future if humans continue on the same path.

9780544233515_hresCreature Features: 25 Animals Explain Why They Look the Way They Do by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014)

Publisher’s Summary: Let’s face it. Even as babies, we humans pay close attention to faces. Observing another person’s features and expressions tells us whether they are happy, angry, excited, or sad. And when we look at an animal, it’s hard not to imagine that its face is communicating human feelings. This isn’t true, of course. Squinty eyes, an upturned mouth, or another odd expression is probably there because, in some way, it helps that animal survive.

Packed with many cool facts and visuals on where certain animals live and what they eat, this book captures twenty-five humorous—and very true—explanations of why animals look the way they do in order to exist in this world.

What’s Next for Writers:

  • Create a series of question and answer entries (i.e., pose a question and answers it from the perspective of the respondent).
  • Use the information about one of the animals (provided within the body and in the back matter of Creature Features) to create a realistic story about that animal.
  • Research an animal of interest, taking notes along the way. Create informational writing about that animal.

untitledMesmerizing Math by Jonathan Litton and Thomas Flintham (Templar, 2013)

Publisher’s Summary: An interactive, engaging and exciting exploration of math, from the invention of zero to the geometry of a donut! Clear, humorous text, bright illustrations, and interactive novelties help explain such topics as numbers, geometry, probability, transformations, and statistics. The focus is on making math accessible and exciting, so each topic has an investigation for young numbersmiths to try at home.

What’s Next for Writers:

  • Craft some mathematical stories based upon something new you learned Mesmerizing Math.
  • Use the probability scale on the “What are the chances?” page spread to write about the probability of events occurring. (Events that are less likely or more likely to occur might make for the best writing fodder.)
  • Write about a “eureka moment” you had about something mathematical.

BoyWhoLovedMath_FCThe Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos by Deborah Heiligman and LeUyen Pham (Roaring Brook Press, 2013)

Publisher’s Summary: Most people think of mathematicians as solitary, working away in isolation. And, it’s true, many of them do. But Paul Erdos never followed the usual path. At the age of four, he could ask you when you were born and then calculate the number of seconds you had been alive in his head. But he didn’t learn to butter his own bread until he turned twenty. Instead, he traveled around the world, from one mathematician to the next, collaborating on an astonishing number of publications. With a simple, lyrical text and richly layered illustrations, this is a beautiful introduction to the world of math and a fascinating look at the unique character traits that made “Uncle Paul” a great man.

What’s Next for Writers:

  • Compose some writing about what makes you unique or misunderstood by some people.
  • Let one of the illustrations or mathematical formulas (in one of the pictures) inspire some writing.
  • Write about ways you can share your knowledge with other people like Paul Erdos shared his brain with friends worldwide.

9780763673154Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes by Nicola Davies and Emily Sutton (Candlewick, 2014)

Publisher’s Summary: All around the world — in the sea, in the soil, in the air, and in your body — there are living things so tiny that millions could fit on an ant’s antenna. They’re busy doing all sorts of things, from giving you a cold and making yogurt to eroding mountains and helping to make the air we breathe. If you could see them with your eye, you’d find that they all look different, and that they’re really good at changing things into something else and at making many more microbes like themselves! From Nicola Davies comes a first exploration for young readers of the world’s tiniest living organisms.

What’s Next for Writers:

  • Teach someone about a hard-to-understand concept by writing in a way that makes the information accessible (just like Davies did).
  • Pretend you’re a germ that’s infecting someone’s body. Write about how you’d make the person sick.
  • Write about something small that can have a big impact.

For more ideas about this book, check out The Classroom Bookshelf blog, which has a wonderful write-up of ways you can use Tiny Creatures with students. (I felt compelled to include this link seeing as this book is especially relevant during cold and flu season.)

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Try reading one or more of these books and allow them to inspire your own writing.  Once you have a piece of writing inspired by any or all of these books, you will have a tangible example of how you let a book inspire you to write.

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When I got the idea for this post, I anticipated having an even split between math and science.  As you’ve seen, my list is just 20% math and that’s only because I was willing to go back a couple of years in terms of publication dates.  (All of the science texts, above, were published in 2014 or will be published this year.)  While you can do an Amazon or Pinterest search for more math-related titles, may I suggest checking out “What Makes a Good Math Storybook?” by Audrey M. Quinlan. Her article is featured in the January/February 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine and includes also includes a book list on page 56.

Also check out Betsy’s post where she reviewed the book IF… A Mind-Bending Way of Looking at Big Ideas and Numbers by Smith and Adams.

Finally, if you’re looking for a fantastic app to inspire some mathematical students, check out Incredible Numbers, which is one of the 2014 Cybils Book App Finalists.

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  • Several publishing houses are giving away one copy of each book listed above.  Many thanks to Candlewick Press, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Macmillan, Millbrook Press, Peachtree, Penguin, Scholastic for donating a copy for TWT readers.
  • For a chance to win this copy of one of the titles above, please leave a comment about this post by Wednesday, January 28th at 11:59 p.m. EST. I’ll use a random number generator to pick the winners, whose names I will announce at the bottom of this post, by Friday, January 30th.
    • NOTES:
      • I will draw the winners’ names and assign the books at random unless you state, in your comment, which books you’re most interested in using in your classroom and why.  Preference will be given to those (whose names are chosen) who mention specific titles in their comments.
      • Listing the name of the book does not guarantee you’ll win a copy of it if your name is one of the ten chosen since multiple people might request the same book(s).
  • If you are the winner of the book, I will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – MATH AND SCIENCE MENTOR TEXTS. Please respond to my e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. Unfortunately, a new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.

Comments are now closed. Thank you to everyone who left a comment on this blog post. I used a random number generator and these are the commenters whose numbers were selected:


  • A Rock Can Be — Lana Kolman
  • About Parrots: A Guide for Children — Allison Jackson
  • As An Oak Tree Grows — Lisa Keeler
  • Beneath the Sun — Missy D.
  • Bilby: Secrets of an Australian Marsupial  — Angela Mahal
  • Buried Sunlight: How Fossil Fuels Have Changed the Earth — Jill Peterson
  • Creature Features: 25 Animals Explain Why They Look the Way They Do — kass06604
  • Mesmerizing Math — Jessie Miller
  • The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos — Adrienne
  • Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes — Chris Leish